Estate planning helps you manage and preserve your assets while your alive, enables you to efficiently transfer assets to your intended beneficiaries at death (or before), and gives you the opportunity to protect your loved ones and their inheritances well after you ultimately pass away. The potential components of an estate plan are as varied as the individuals who create them. Usually, proper estate planning combines a number of the following:
- Lifetime control over financial and health care decision-making
- Planning for the cost-effective and expedient transfer of wealth
- Family maintenance and protection planning
- Business succession planning
- Charitable gifting
- Estate and income tax planning
- Legacy planning
- Addressing issues unique to the elderly (Elder Law)
Planning for Incapacity
If you become incapacitated, you won't be able to manage your own financial affairs. Without proper planning in place a "black hole" or "control vacuum" appears. In these cases, court intervention (i.e., guardianship) is a virtual certainty. This process can be time consuming, expensive, and stressful.
Proper incapacity planning operates to fill this "control vacuum" without court intervention. It enables you to hand-pick trusted individuals, and empower them to act on your behalf. Moreover, it binds your appointed individuals to follow a specific set of instructions designed to meet your stated goals and objectives.
I assist clients in preparing the right documents that enable them to retain a lifetime control without court intervention. Through the use of trusts, powers of attorney, and health care directives, my clients are able to: (1) maintain control over financial, legal and property matters; (2) maintain control over personal health care and medical matters; and (3) control over the care and nurturing of minor children and other dependents.
Cost-Effective and Expedient Transfer of Wealth at Death
Dying can be a costly and time consuming exercise, particularly if there is no plan in place. Creditors, financial institutions, and other interested parties must be notified; funeral and burial arrangements must be carried out; debts must be addressed; taxes must be paid; tangible and intangible assets must be protected and eventually transferred to beneficiaries; and your overall wishes must be carried out. There is simply quite a bit to do.
Proper estate planning identifies all of these hurdles and minimized their affect. For example, if it is determined that substantially all of your assets would be subject to lengthy and costly probate proceedings at death, I may recommend utilizing various "trusts" and other planning techniques to eliminate the need for probate court intervention at death. (NOTE: "Revocable Living Trusts" are to be used in limited circumstances in Pennsylvania. Consult with your attorney to determine if one is appropriate for your unique situation.) In addition, I will typically assist you in devising plans empowering your trusted family members to seamlessly retain control of and continue the operation of unique assets -- like businesses, farming operations, or even "legacy property" (like the family cabin).
Understanding just what needs to be done for a particular client requires experience and knowledge of the various tools and techniques available. Equally important is a complete understanding of your particular needs. Each client is different. Consequently, no one technique works for everyone.
Family Maintenance and Protection Planning
Your estate plan should address many of the following family maintenance and protection issues:
- Who could best serve as the "back-up parents" for minor children, providing the necessary care, love and nurturing environment;
- How could "continuing trusts" be utilized to safeguard inheritances for minor beneficiaries or other beneficiaries who lack the ability to manage their inheritances;
- How can inheritances for adult beneficiaries be held in trust to protect them from potential future divorces, lawsuits, creditors and predators;
- What types of activities, life styles, work ethics, etc. do you desire to incent;
- How can you minimize the potential risk of "affluenza" or "sudden wealth syndrome" for beneficiaries who are going to receive sizeable inheritances;
- What if the intended beneficiaries have (or may develop) "special needs" or disabilities.
Planning for Death Taxes
No matter how overtaxed you think you are during life, Uncle Sam will want to review your estate at death to ensure you don't owe him that one final tax: the federal estate tax. Whether there will be any tax to pay depends on the size of your estate and how your estate plan works. Pennsylvania also has its own separate inheritance tax regime that you need to be aware of and plan for. There are many well-established strategies that can be implemented to reduce or eliminate death taxes, but you must start planning process early in order to implement many of these plans.
Charitable Bequests - Planned Giving
Do you want to benefit a charitable organization or cause? Your estate plan can provide for such organizations in a variety of ways, either during your lifetime or at your death. Depending on how your planned giving plan is set up, it may also let you receive a stream of income for life, earn higher investment yield, or reduce your capital gains or estate taxes.
A well-crafted estate plan should provide for your loved ones in an effective and efficient manner by avoiding guardianship during your lifetime, probate at death, estate taxes and unnecessary delays. You should consult a qualified Pennsylvania estate planning attorney to review your family and financial situation, your goals and explain the various options available to you. Once your estate plan is in place, you will have peace of mind knowing that you have provided for yourself and your family in case the worst happens.
Serving Allegheny County, my law office represents estate planning and elder law clients from Pittsburgh, Mt Lebanon, Mt Oliver, Green Tree, Dormont, Baldwin, Carnegie, Crafton, Ingram, Thomburg, McKees Rocks, Reserve Township, Shaler Township, Bellevue, Ross Township, Glenshaw, Millvale, Sharpsburg, Aspinwall, Homestead, Wilkinsburg, Edgewood, Fox Chapel, Sewickley, Coraopolis, Squirrel Hill, Oakland, Point Breeze, and Shadyside. The Pennsylvania Law Office of Jeremy M. Nicholas focuses on Pennsylvania estate planning, wills, trusts, estates, probate administration, trust administrtation, pet trusts, medical assistance planning, Medicaid planning & eligibility, elder law, and transactional law. Attorney Jeremy Nicholas is a local estate planning attorney, trust attorney, probate attorney, asset protection attorney, Medicaid attorney, pet planning attorney, and elder law attorney.